A historic Stoughton building that sat empty for nearly a decade now invites visitors to buy and build wooden crafts.
Called the Doughboy Building because it was once the home of Doughboy Feeds, century building at 501 E. Main St. it was last occupied nine years ago by a fleet of milk trucks. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was a car showroom.
In February, following a major renovation, the building reopened as Grand Inspired, a combination woodworking gallery and membership-based workshop designed to celebrate fine craftsmanship and provide a space where everyone from beginners to experts can create.
The business is the brainchild of veteran educator Joanne Grassman, 60, who spent 32 years working as a psychologist and school administrator in Madison schools before retiring in 2021. Raised in a family of woodworkers in In the central Wisconsin town of Granton, she spent every Sunday in front of the altar of the church her great-grandfather built, and she dreamed of one day renovating their old farmhouse.
“I’ve been doing (woodworking) for most of my life while working in another career,” said Grassman, who joined Madison maker space The Bodgery a few years ago, traveling to the workshop shared from her home in the town of Dunn.
As she contemplated her retirement, she began looking around Stoughton for a historic building to rehab. The search took nearly a year, but by May 2021, she had purchased one.
“It needs just about everything,” Grassman said, including new heating and wiring. The renovations cost about $300,000, of which a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation covered about $76,000.
Grassman’s son, Darren Bell, 30, who at the time was living in Thailand and running a coffee roasting company, helped plan and build the website before returning to Wisconsin earlier this year to joined his mother in running the business.
Together, they designed a business that would suit their interests, the space and the city. With other galleries nearby, including the Abel Contemporary Gallery just across the street, Stoughton is “really becoming an art destination,” Grassman said.
Six days a week, visitors can come in to browse furniture and art in the Grand Inspired gallery. And those looking for a place to do their woodworking can sign up for a workshop membership, which costs $40 a month for hobbyists and $70 a month for those who sell their work. Members can take free lessons where they create projects like cutting boards and boxes that they can take home. They can also sign up for one-on-one sessions with instructor Rob Gurke, who can demonstrate how to use the shop’s various power tools or consult on their next project.
While there are many galleries and a handful of local makerspaces, Grassman and Bell are not aware of any other businesses that serve as a woodworking gallery where artists can sell their work and as a community woodworking store. where people can learn and build.
By offering both, Grassman hopes to “build that appreciation for the time and talent and effort that really goes into making something by hand.”
“We’re very happy when someone decides to try to do something on their own,” Bell said.
The gallery offers goods, ideas
Where the windows were once boarded up, today light pours in and passers-by look in. Grassman and Bell greet them warmly, eager to share the dream they have turned into reality. Visitors can explore the gallery on their own or take a spontaneous tour of the wood shop, which can also be seen through a large window behind the front counter.
“It’s almost a daily occurrence that someone stops and says, ‘I’m so glad someone did something with this building,'” Grassman said.
The gallery features works ranging from small spice bowls to large tables, priced from less than $10 to more than $5,000. Styles also vary greatly. There are benches that combine rustic reclaimed barn beams and sleek steel. There are tables made from wood from old tobacco-drying casks and polished bowls turned from gnarled grubs that grow on the sides of trees. There are also a variety of latticework pieces in the meticulous Japanese kumiko style, which uses only pressure—rather than nails or glue—to hold the pieces in place.
In keeping with the name of the business, visitors can also stop by for a dose of inspiration for their projects. People regularly visit the gallery and then mention a piece of wood they’ve been holding, just trying to figure out how to make something out of it.
“Often people want a custom project because they have wood that has a story behind it,” Bell said. “Their old barn fell down, or this part of this tree from their childhood home fell over, and they want to turn it into a table.”
The store offers expert consultation on such projects and takes commissions if the person wants to hire one of the store’s artists to make a custom piece.
And, leaning against one wall, there are a number of planks of wood, harvested and processed from urban trees felled by the city of Stoughton, available for sale to those looking for inspiration for their next projects.
The Miracle Workshop
The workshop features all the woodworking essentials, including some of the most advanced tools available. The SawStop table saw shuts off and retracts its blade within 5 milliseconds if the blade makes contact with skin. There are joiners, planers, spreaders, band saws and a programmable CNC wood carving machine. There is also a massive dust collector that absorbs sawdust, some of which becomes bedding for members’ backyard chickens.
A collection of DIY wood tools made by Gurke help members cut common corners or circles with ease and consistency. “We want people to experience woodworking … in a successful way,” Grassman said, thinking back to her career as an educator. “That’s really what keeps one going in a hobby, isn’t it?”
The store has about 55 members, with more signing up every week. About half the members are beginners, and many are older women who weren’t allowed to take shop lessons when they were in school.
Non-members may register for classes for a fee, space available. In the next few hours, students will use band saws to make bud vases and epoxy to make coasters.
Visitors can also stop by for community events, including pop-up shops and music performances. Next up is an artisan drinkware mug show (August 20-21), followed by an October shawl and scarf show. The pair look forward to filling the store’s calendar with more events.
“You can be a member here, you can come shop here and you can take classes here,” Grassman said. “It’s kind of become part of the community.”
The four questions
What are the most important values that guide your work?
Grasman: I think the value that has driven the business is really developing an appreciation for the time, the talent, the skill, the perseverance that goes into making something that is truly handmade.
Bell: Appreciation for something that care has been taken in its creation. When something has taken care in its creation, then you continue to take care of it. And it really lasts – not just physically, but you remember it.
Grasman: Even with the building itself. There are some people who can look at an old building and say, “Take it down.” But (we have) that appreciation for what went into it.
How are you creating the kind of community you want to live in?
Grasman: When I think about the kind of community I want to be a part of, it’s a community that is uplifting the people in it. It’s inspiring. Working to solve problems creatively. It helps people grow and learn. And that’s what we do here. We hope that people will come to this place and be inspired by what they see.
Bell: Our maker space has also become a really great community area. We have so many members who work together on projects and form friendships. It’s really cool to see people learning and growing together. And I think the events that we have here are helping the community as a whole, even those who aren’t woodworkers or who wouldn’t just want to shop.
What advice do you have for other would-be entrepreneurs?
Bell: When you first start the business, I think a lot of people want to start handling it (themselves) and then when they build, they think, “OK, now I can start hiring.” But I think it’s helpful for people to have someone to give them some guidance in the beginning, whether it’s a service you’re paying for or just a friend who has experience in the business. Starting with a few training wheels is a good idea and then once you feel like you know what you’re doing then you can start to take it over.
Grasman: The thing I was thinking about is that brick and mortar businesses have changed. You can buy everything online, but you can’t experience things online. And so thinking about your business as an experience is important. How do you give people something they can’t get online? That’s a big part of what we do here. People want something that creates a memory for themselves and their time away from home should be meaningful.
Are you hiring?
Grasman: We are not looking for another hourly employee at this point, but we are always looking for artists who work with wood, who work with metal, who work with natural materials to be part of the gallery.